The Musgrave Pencil Company, like the General Pencil Company, is one of the last independent American pencil makers. Headquartered in Shelbyville, Tennessee, the famous “Pencil City”, Musgrave has been in business since 1916.
Their pencils aren’t generally available in Canada – at least the ones they make in their own name. Home Depot carpenter’s pencils and other private label products they manufacture seem to be more common. I’ve written previously about some Unigraphs that I once found.
I’ll say something to Musgrave that I said to General: Please update your website! An NBC news report shows that Musgrave owns computers and employs at least one professional graphic designer (for their pencils). I am sure it would be possible to put some of that energy into the website, which could become a great showcase for the company. (General has recently updated their site, after years of stagnation.)
The Musgrave HB (that’s really the official name) is part of Musgrave’s “School Line”. It came to the attention of the online community through pencilthings.com, which is where I obtained these pencils. Does anyone know where the rest of Musgrave’s line can be obtained? They seem to have hundreds of pencil varieties, but very few seem to reach retailers, nor does Musgrave sell directly.
The HB pencils have a beautiful natural finish, and have a white eraser attached with a gold and maroon ferrule. They are sold unsharpened.
On the scale, a couple of dozen pencils ranged from 5.3g to 6.3g, with a mean weight of 5.8g. Compare this with the Castell 9000 (3.9g) or the reference Mars Lumograph (3.8g). This pencil weighs 50% more than the European competitors! The distance between the sides is the same as a Lumograph (maybe a hair larger) – about 7.47mm. So where is the weight? Some must be in the ferrule and eraser. I’m also comparing unsharpened to sharpened pencils.
There is one physical difference apart from the eraser – the hexagonal shape is much less rounded than the Castell or Mars. You can feel the edges of the pencil quite clearly. I really like this. Vintage pencils had similarly unrounded edges.
The lettering is gold, though the “HB” is plain on black. The pencil is marked:
Side 1 (Obverse): ESTABLISHED 1916 [logo] MUSGRAVE [logo] HB
Side 2: blank
Side 3: blank
Side 4 (Reverse): MADE IN SHELBYVILLE, TENNESSEE USA HB
Side 5: blank
Side 6: blank
As regular blog readers know – I like minimal markings, and I love acknowledgment of the pencil’s origin. Triple points to Musgrave for actually naming the city of production.
I’ve previously mentioned that the Techograph 777, Mars Lumograph 100, and Castell 9000 leads (in HB) are all sufficiently similar that the differences are nuanced and hard to describe. The Musgrave’s lead isn’t at all hard to distinguish. It is softer, smoother, and darker than those three European pencils, and leaves a darker line. It also has an aspect of crumbling or disintegration, and leaves more graphite dust in the area of use. Markings erase as easily as those of the European pencils.
It requires quite a bit of thought to find any negatives – there is some crumbling, and the high gloss finish can make it a bit of a slippery hold. The packaging is nil – the pencils arrive loose. (Some may feel this is a plus, but I think this pencil deserves a box.) There is no choice of lead grade.
Overall, the pencil is a great find – a real pleasure to use in every way. Though mail order may not always be convenient, the pencil price also represents a tremendous bargain. I’ll go out on a limb and state that it may be the best pencil that one can buy for under one US dollar.
Here are some some links to information on the Musgrave Pencil Company:
Musgrave HB Product Page You have to click the “Sign on as guest” button. pencils.net is Musgrave’s official site.
Tennessee Encyclopedia article on Musgrave
Tennessee History for Kids article on Musgrave Excellent photographs!
WBIR (NBC) report on Musgrave Make sure you click the “Watch Video” link – the best film of pencil production I’ve seen. Also, Musgrave president Henry Hulan is interviewed.
Shelbyville Times-Gazette article on Musgrave